Yunus Musah 2020/21 – scout report
Yunus Musah has been one of the biggest surprises so far in La Liga. This 18-year-old midfielder has played 78% of the minutes so far for Valencia and is starting to attract interest. He has represented England from U15 to U19 levels, but he made his senior USMNT debut last month in a friendly match. We’ll look at the reasons behind his quick raise in this tactical analysis.
Born in New York, Musah moved to England aged 10 and started playing for Arsenal Academy before joining Valencia B in 2019 in a free transfer. Last season he played six matches in the UEFA Youth League with Valencia U19 and 17 with Valencia B in the Segunda División B, the third tier of Spanish football. His impact was quickly noted and he’s been fast-tracked to the first team, making his debut aged only 17.
Musah has broken into Valencia’s first-team as a right midfielder in Javi Gracia’s 4-4-2 formation, but his position when coming through the academy was different. Naturally, a central midfielder, his power and dribbling ability make him a decent option to play from either wing, where his youth and lack of experience make mistakes less dangerous for his team. His size is enough for any midfield position too, standing at 178 cm / 6’0’’.
When playing with the USMNT, Musah can be seen in a more central position, acting on either side of a diamond midfield. In that tactical setup, he has more freedom to come inside, get close to the defenders to help in the buildup and also appear between the lines. Musah can play in any position in the aforementioned diamond and his influence can be seen all around the pitch.
Below we can see Musah’s heatmap with Valencia this season. As we have mentioned, he doesn’t enjoy as much freedom with Valencia as he does with the national team, so he’s closer to the right side of the pitch. Anyway, we can see how he appears in more central positions and likes to be closer to the defenders too to take the ball and progress from there, fitting in different tactics.
Dribbling and progressing ability
Musah’s main strength is his dribbling ability and his power when running with the ball. He can take rivals on in very different situations, both in tight and bigger spaces, making him a very adaptable player. His ability on the ball make him a player who can transition quickly from defence to attack, breaking lines while carrying the ball through the middle of the pitch and advancing quickly and directly. But he can also be used on either wing as he’s skilful enough to beat defenders in one-vs-one situations using his acceleration and technique.
If we look at Musah’s statistics, dribbling is his main strength. He ranks 15th among La Liga midfielders (at least 360 minutes) in dribbles per 90 with 5.41 and 16th in offensive duels per 90 with 11.68. He uses his ball-carrying ability to make 2.06 progressive runs per 90 (27th among La Liga midfielders). This stats show his willingness to take players on and even if his success rate is not the best – he wins 40% of his offensive duels and completes 50% of his dribbles – he’s still a very valuable asset on Valencia’s right-wing. If he can get more consistent in this aspect, he could become a very good ball-progressing central midfielder, but for now, he’s better on the wings, where any mistake isn’t as bad as in more central positions.
Looking at the smarterscout’s playing style graph below, it’s clear that Musah relies mostly on his dribbling to make an impact on games, but he needs to develop in other areas to reach his full potential.
In the following picture, we can see an example of Musah’s impacting the game with his dribbling ability. Musah has the ball at the edge of the ball and uses a step over to dribble past the man standing in front of the defensive line. When the right centre-back tries to tackle him, Musah dribbles him too and gets fouled in a very dangerous position. This action shows his ability to make quick dribbles in short spaces and advance through the rival defence.
But Musah is also a great dribbler in longer distances. He has pace and power to carry the ball forward, advancing easily while breaking lines. This ability to drive the ball forward is an excellent asset for counterattacking teams as he can transition quickly from defence to attack and get the ball to the final third without needing any help from his teammates. Below, we’ll see some examples of how he can help his team with his runs.
In the picture below, Musah gets the ball deep in his own half and starts running forward. He gets past the first player with a good feint and change of pace and he gets fouled by the second rival he dribbles. If his team can find Musah with spaces in front of him, he’s a very solid option to break high-pressing teams and get the ball into the opposition half.
When he’s facing the goal and has movements in front of him, Musah’s vision is good enough to play good passes and find his teammates’ runs. As we’ll see later in this scout report, he has some problems to detect what’s behind him and his awareness is not the best, but once he has turned he has some quality in his passing.
Again below, Musah receives in his own half and starts driving the ball forward. He bursts through the midfield line and runs towards the defensive line. When one of the defenders leave his mark to press him, he plays a simple but very effective pass to the right-winger. In this play, Musah creates a chance by himself after receiving the ball from a defender.
In the next example, Musah has recovered the ball on the left side of the pitch and is running towards the defensive line. When his teammate starts running the channel between the centre-back and the right-back, Musah chooses the exact moment to avoid the offside and makes a good deep pass into his run. After the pass, Musah continues running and reaches the penalty spot. Again here, Musah has enough vision to see what’s happening in front of him while running with the ball and makes a good passing decision.
Despite the positives we have seen so far, Musah is far from reaching his full potential. His technique is good but inconsistent. He still misses easy passes putting the wrong weight on them and his first touch lets him down on some occasions. You can still see he’s a 2002-born player and his mistakes are fully expectable from an 18-year-old teenager.
His stats support this analysis. Apart from his poor numbers in successful dribbles and offensive duels, Musah completes just 78.95% of his passes – 6th worst between La Liga midfielders – even if his passing style isn’t very aggressive or risky as we’ll see in the next section of this tactical analysis.
Tactical naivety and lack of awareness
When it comes to his positioning on the field and his relation with his teammates, Musah is still very raw. He tends to move towards the ball, sometimes attracting players and making it difficult for his teammates to move. When between the lines, Musah doesn’t look to move horizontally to create passing lanes and is difficult to find with progressive passes. This is another reason why he’s playing on the right-wing as there he needs fewer movements between the lines and his tendency to get to close to his teammates is less harmful to Valencia.
This tendency means Musah rarely makes runs in behind and doesn’t get into good scoring positions. He averages just 1.23 touches in the box, 0.25 shots and 0.03 xG per 90, very poor numbers for a midfielder and even worse when considering he’s playing as a winger. This means Musah’s abilities don’t translate into goals or opportunities and he needs to improve a lot in this aspect.
One of the reasons why Musah’s positioning isn’t optimal is that he doesn’t scan often enough. Scanning is crucial to be aware of the surroundings and helps players make decisions before receiving the ball, so they don’t need many touches or time to play. Lots of times, Musah receives the ball without having scanned what’s around him. This makes him either lose good chances to turn and advance or take too many touches and risk getting caught off-guard and lose the ball.
In the example below, Musah runs towards his defence and receives the ball. He has space to turn and try to advance, but he hasn’t scanned what’s behind him and returns the ball to the centre-back, missing a chance to progress and unnecessarily slowing down his team’s attack.
Below, Musah again runs towards the ball and receives it from the right centre-back. He’s completely unmarked but hasn’t scanned before receiving the pass, so he controls with the outside of his right foot and goes back instead of controlling with his left, turning and advancing. He probably thought the player marked in red had followed him and tried to make the safest decision, but that didn’t happen and he missed an opportunity to turn and continue advancing. Scanning and controlling with the foot that’s further from the ball is something lots of teams – most famously Barcelona – teach in their academies, but Musah lacks this concept and finds it difficult to turn with the ball.
In general, Musah needs a higher work rate. He’s only active when he receives the ball, making him an easy-to-mark player as he doesn’t make the necessary movements to generate spaces and receive between the lines. This is the negative aspect of his high amount of dribbles and offensive duels. Lots of them happen because he’s tightly marked when he receives the ball, so he needs a moment of individual brilliance to get rid of his marker.
His lack of movement combined with his difficulties to turn and face the goal result in him having a very poor forward passes ratio of just 19.34%. His lack of movements between the lines makes it difficult for him to be involved in the attacks, and he’s the sixth-worst midfielder in La Liga when it comes to passes per 90 (21.02). This lack of involvement logically results in his passes to the final third and his progressive passes per 90 being second worst between La Liga midfielders (0.98 and 2.09 respectively).
When it comes to defending, Musah has good natural conditions: he uses his body well, is strong in duels and has a good pace. But he’s still a player who doesn’t work constantly and lacks the intensity and defensive positioning to be an effective ball-recoverer. His defensive work consists of short efforts and he often reacts to what the rival does instead of trying to anticipate and get into good positions sooner.
In the picture below, we can see some of this defensive naivety. With his team defending near their box, Musah is just standing in no man’s land and far from any rival. His teammate behind him has to shout and guide him to make him get closer to the man he should be marking, but without that guidance, he concedes too much space and doesn’t really know where to be.
Again in the example below, we can see Musah’s defensive positioning. When the rivals try to build from the back, Musah doesn’t mark anyone and leaves the space for an easy pass to be played past him. Once the pass is made he reacts and tries to chase the rival, but he has already progressed and crossed the halfway line. If Musah had made the short run to block that passing lane before, then he wouldn’t need to chase the ball, but he didn’t see it.
Again, it’s normal for a player who has just turned 18 to have the football intelligence to be always well positioned. If his coaches can develop him and he learns from experience, Musah has the conditions to become a very complete midfielder who can combine technique, progressing ability and physical presence.
Musah has broken into a Valencia’s first team that urgently needed fresh players after a chaotic summer. He has played a lot for a player of his age and despite adapting to men’s football and a new position he has shown glimpses of quality, especially with his dribbling ability.
He made his senior debut with the USMNT in a friendly match last month, but he’s still eligible to play for England. The FA is following him closely and will try to convince him to choose England over the Americans in the next international break. Whoever gets him will have a raw diamond in their hands waiting to be developed into a great footballer.